I got a comment on my last post about my trail ultra, and I realized as I was typing out a novel in response that I should probably write a post about it instead. I get a lot of questions about run-walking, which is fine because I have a lot of opinions about it as well!
Okay, so here’s the question:
I’m not a distance runner, but what brought you to use the 3:1 run walk ratio? I guess I’m under the impression that for races, you should strive to run the entire thing.
First, I want to talk about the last part of the comment. Personally I don’t think there’s one specific way to race that people should strive for. I think that as long as you got yourself from the start line to the finish line under the power of your own legs/prosthetics/wheelchair/whatever and you obeyed all of the rules of the race (looking at all of you cheating Rosie Ruizes), what you did counts. Some people walk the whole thing, some people run, some people try to run but end up stumbling to a walk three-quarters of a way through. In the end, though, the important thing is finishing (and ideally without the need for medical attention).
For me, when I am racing a distance I feel comfortable with, I try to run the whole thing. However, if the distance is new to me, I will use a run-walk method to make it less psychologically intimidating. It’s easier for me to think of running in blocks of three minutes than running for 26.2 miles or whatever.
I decided to do this after going to the expo of my first half-marathon, which was in Ogden in May 2008. I had trained somewhat but my training had been far from ideal or consistent, and my longest training run had been a ten-miler. I was, in a word, terrified. Like, my hands quivered, my stomach roiled like a cauldron of fear. But we happened to catch Jeff Galloway speaking at the expo, and he used his time to talk about the Galloway method. Basically, the Galloway method calls for taking walk breaks at regular intervals throughout the course of a run. (Here’s more if you are curious.)
When I realized that was an option, most of my anxiety evaporated, and I went out and completed my first half-marathon and had a blast while doing so. I ended up doing the run-walk for several more half-marathons, until the Key West Half-Marathon in January 2011, where I decided to try to run the whole thing, and ended up breaking two hours for the first time!
Since then I’ve run ten half-marathons, and with the exception of one race, I came in at under two hours at all of them. (My half-marathon times tend to be around the 1:43-1:46 realm these days.) I don’t think I would have been able to get to this point had it not been for the psychological comfort I developed through those first couple years of run-walking. Now I am so comfortable with the distance that I can line up for one and feel only flutters of excitement, never fear.
I also used it for my first marathon, the Walt Disney World Marathon in January 2010 (which I finished in 4:49). Once I saw that, yes, I could cover 26.2 miles under the power of my own body and that, yeah, it was going to hurt a lot but it wasn’t going to kill me, I felt comfortable trying to run the whole distance. It took me two failed attempts – at Big Sur in 2012 and Bahamas in 2013 -but I finally got my no-walk (and my sub-4:00!) marathon this past January in Clearwater.
This is the other thing about run-walking. Not only does it help me psychologically, by taking a previously unheard-of distance – for me – and breaking it down to tiny bite-size chunks of running and walking, but it’s also a lot easier on your body. Don’t get me wrong, it still hurts, but it’s nothing like running straight through. Whenever I talk to someone who is taking on a half-marathon or longer for the first time, I always tell them about run-walking.
It’s with this history that I decided I would do my first trail ultra with a run-walk, and why I’m planning to do my 50-miler in the Keys with a run-walk. Both of these are/were unprecedented distances that scared the living bejesus out of me, and so by slicing it up into three-minute intervals of running spaced out with one-minute intervals of walking, I am better able to cope mentally AND physically. I may not be as fast as I could be but at least I finish, you know? Plus, the next time I sign up for a 50K race (which was basically what my trail ultra was, plus a couple miles) I’ll have a better idea of what it feels like so I can actually consider trying to run the whole thing.
Now, there’s an added dimension to all of this that comes when you start getting into the ultra distances. Because the distances and the amount of time spent on the road/trail become so much greater, a lot of training plans actually suggest racers train with regular walking intervals in mind. Because here’s the thing – unless you are Scott Jurek or Kami Semick, you will probably be walking at some point. I’ve read a ton of material in anticipation of this race, and almost every single one of them says run-walking will really help you out when you are racing in an ultra (and even more so if you are a n00b, like I am).
Here’s one guy who says walking during an ultra could actually lead to faster finish times. I believe it. My times when I employed a run-walk strategy were nothing spectacular but they weren’t bad, either. BTW it was hard for me to deal with this at first, when I’d find myself left behind because of those early walk intervals and I’d feel slightly embarrassed, but experience taught me that I would eventually catch a good number of those people later in the race. This style of racing really required I shut my ego down and tell her to stay down, at least at the beginning.
The run-walk ratio suggested by a lot of the training plans is actually quite different from what I’m planning on doing. For instance, this post suggests 25 minutes of walking and five minutes of running, which would break down to a five minute walk/one minute run schedule. The reason why I’m going for the shorter intervals is simple: it is going to be hot like the motherfucking sun out there, and the more energy I can conserve at any given time, the better. I’m not trying to age-group or beat a specific time goal or anything like that. I just want to finish, and past experience has taught me that this will be a good way to get that done.
Runners: what are your thoughts on run-walking? Have you ever done it? Do you do it now? Or do you prefer not to? Why or why not?